Cheap Colorado Elk Hunting

One of the greatest myths of modern hunting is that hunting elk in Colorado is expensive and only for those with a fancy firearm, over-priced binoculars and the latest model 4-wheel drive Cadillac. It's simply not true! Of course, just like any other adventure the sky is the limit on the expense of Rocky Mountain elk hunting, but if you can survive without steak dinners or sleeping in satin sheets on a king size bed, a week long Colorado hunting excursion is probably within your monetary means.

My first 9 day elk hunting trip in 1999 cost a total of $498. That included food, fuel and tags. Since I was already an avid hunter, I possessed most of the equipment necessary for hunting and camping, which helped with the total out of pocket expense. The cost of everything, especially fuel and tags, has increased drastically since that time. However, it is still feasible to make a week long trip for under $1000. Depending on how rough you can rough it, there is an infinite number of ways to reduce or eliminate many of the expenses. My goal is to cover a few that I have learned over the years and stimulate the creative miser in you that will make the trip fit your budget.

Tarps make a cheap tent
Tarps make a cheap tent

Do It Yourself


Outfitters and guides certainly have their place in elk hunting and the services provided by most is well worth every penny. However, their services add thousands of dollars to the cost of a hunt. A large portion of these outfitters operate on public land that you can hunt without their services. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management oversee millions of acres in Colorado that is open to the public year round. Maps and other information can be obtained online from the USFS and BLM or by visiting one of their field office scattered throughout the state. Also, the Big Game page of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website contains a wealth of information regarding hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreational activities. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife website is also where you can go to purchase your hunting license online.

Take a friend ... or two

Traveling, hunting and camping with others will spread a lot of the fixed expenses across several wallets rather than you footing the entire bill. Dividing fuel expenses, as well as cost of lanterns, a tent and other equipment among two or three friends not only reduces each individuals cost, it is also safer than hunting alone, it reduces the work load and makes for a more enjoyable experience. All the equipment required for a 3 person, week long hunting trip, including an ATV for each party member, will fit in the bed of an extended cab pick-up and on a 10 foot utility trailer. Better yet, to reduce fuel expenses, leave the ATVs and trailer at home and carefully pack the equipment in the bed of the truck. Also, a group of three hunters traveling in an extended or 4 door truck can take turns sleeping and driving, which eliminates the expense of an overnight stay in a hotel.

Friends can share the expenses and enhance the trip
Friends can share the expenses and enhance the trip

Buy Cheap Tags

Tags for Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep and Moose cost over $1000. It would be hard to make a LEGAL trip for under $1000 when the tag cost more than that. Non-resident bull and either sex elk tags cost approximately $619 for the 2015 seasons. This leaves $381.00 in a $1000 budget. Although it is still quite possible to make a the trip for under $1000, there are cheaper options. Cow elk tags for the 2015 seasons cost $461. Inexperienced elk hunters will find that cows are much easier to harvest than bulls and some hunters claim the meat has better flavor and is much more tender. Don't believe that finding and bringing down a cow elk will be like shooting rabbits in a cage. They are as wary as any bull and often found in large groups. It is much more difficult to sneak within range of a skittish cow accompanied by a dozen or more skittish cows, than a single bull. Until you get the craving for antlers, buy the cheaper cow tags. Learn to find and hunt elk before dropping the extra cash on a bull tag. Also, note that the price of the tags includes a Colorado fishing license. Many of the streams are full of hungry brook trout which adds another enjoyable experience to the trip, not to mention a very tasty and inexpensive meal. Be sure and check the fishing regulations brochure and take plenty of bait.

Cook At Home

A month or two before the season, our hunting party determines the number of meals we will need. We eat instant oatmeal and other easily prepared meals for breakfast. Lunches, which are usually eaten in the field, are made each morning from a variety of sandwich fixings and other snacks spread on the table. The evening meals are usually the most hearty, but can be time consuming to prepare in camp. We cook these meals weeks before we leave for camp. The meals are divided into individual portions and frozen in boil-a-bags or heavy duty freezer bags. Once in camp and when ready for a hot meal, a hunter simply drops the entire bag in boiling water and heats it until it suits his taste. A hot and hearty home cooked meal after a day of chasing elk in rough terrain will help any hunter rest well and be ready for the next day. The variety of meals is limited only by your imagination. However, some meals freeze and reheat better than others and members of the group should voice any foods they cannot or simply refuse to eat beforehand. Re-heated liver and onions is not a camp favorite, but there have been a few times I watched a very weary hunter, eager to hit the sack, eat partially frozen lasagna. Your group does not have to limit the prepared meals to the evening only. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners could all be planned and packaged in a similar manner. In deciding which meals to prepare early or fix on the spot, your group must decide between convenience and savings.

Elk camps can become a tradition
Elk camps can become a tradition

Set Up Camp


Depending on the size of your hunting party, 7 or 8 nights in any decent hotel can cost $1000, not to mention the extra fuel burned traveling to and from the hunting area. Camping on USFS or other public lands is absolutely free in most areas and there are many private campgrounds that charge only a few dollars a night to set up a tent and awning. Any good quality tent is suitable for the early archery and muzzleloader seasons. You may also consider dividing the cost of a nice wall tent among several hunters. After a couple of seasons, the tent will have paid for itself in expense saved by eliminating the cost of hotels or cabins. Modern cots and sleeping bags are moderately priced and can be found to suit the requirements of the largest and/or pickiest member of your party. Lanterns, cook stoves and heaters can all be connected to bulk propane bottles and once snug in your sleeping bags it is no longer necessary to burn them. There are many other ways to save money in camp. The amount saved in camp is again determined by your group deciding what amenities or conveniences are required and what can be eliminated.

This is in no way a list of items you will need for your trip, that is another page. These are just a few ways to save big dollars on your hunt. Drinking water, kool-aid or tea instead of soda, refilling water bottles, washing dishes instead of using disposable plates and/or untensils are a few of the thousands of ways to stretch your elk hunting budget. With a little thought and planning the ideas will come to you. The amount saved is entirely up to you and what you require to safely hunt and survive in the wild for a week. From experience I can say this: I would rather know I scrimped, saved and pinched every penny I could in order to make one elk hunt in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, than to never experience the adventure. Remember, if you make your list of expenses and just can't seem cut out those last few dollars, you can always use pine cones instead of toilet paper!!

The scenery alone is worth the trip
The scenery alone is worth the trip

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Comments 4 comments

Ricky Doss 6 years ago

Those are some great pics. Somehow they look very familiar. Good article and advice. I can testify that it will all work.


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GameCameraExpert 5 years ago from Louisville, KY

Beautiful country.


Edwin Brown 4 years ago from Oregon, USA

Here's an idea. I have cousins from Oklahoma who bow hunt elk in the Rockies of northern N. Mexico. Someone always brings a pellet gun, for grouse. They have many a nice wild game dinner. More work, yes, but they don't mind that. Grouse are delicious (and free).


edward 4 years ago

were can i find a hunt like that?

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